News


Guest Opinion: Exploring creative options for underground train tracks

City holding next grade separation workshop on Oct. 21

Palo Alto is planning perhaps the most critical infrastructure in its history: the separation of our roads from the rail line that bisects the city. As a City Council member and chair of the Rail Committee, I want to thank everyone who has come to the first two workshops on rail grade separations. We received a lot of great community feedback. Please come to the next workshop planned for Oct. 21.

The desire from the community is clear. We need to exhaustively investigate creative approaches to put the train underground and evaluate whether it is possible to do it across town or across a portion of it. Past councils, past rail committees, past community groups and our current community engagement process have all shown a preference for this approach. We need to get serious about how to underground the train and how to pay for it.

In parallel with technical analysis and community considerations, we need a comprehensive funding and construction approach. It will be easy to do a superficial job and declare that an underground alternative is too expensive. Naysayers will inflate costs, assume excessive constraints and dismiss the idea without gathering facts. We need a detailed analysis coupled with some creative approaches to truly determine feasibility.

Unfortunately, in highly urbanized areas, using only high-level evaluations to quickly eliminate alternatives is not helpful. It turns out that details can both add costs or cut costs in highly complicated plans. There are no simple, cheap alternatives, so we must do a detailed evaluation of the best alternatives. We must also work closely with neighboring cities to knit together a solution.

An underground solution provides many benefits including a flat pathway for pedestrians and bicyclists, diminished noise and dust, enhanced safety and recovered green space; but it is expensive. An earlier analysis showed that it might be possible to trench the train under two crossings in south Palo Alto for around $500 million. That's a lot, and it requires hard work to make it possible. But $500 million starts to look feasible when one considers that road underpasses with room for bike and pedestrian crossings are likely to cost $200 million-plus per crossing.

Another early analysis showed that if we instead lower the road under the tracks, up to 80 homes would have to be taken through eminent domain to maintain turn lanes onto Alma Street, and that could be up to $250 million just in property acquisition costs for a total of $650 million-plus. Throw in a lawsuit or two, and two underpasses could easily exceed the cost of a trench.

An interesting idea raised at one of our community meetings is to consider the rail corridor and Alma together as a way to minimize costs and construction impacts. Imagine running the rail in a trench in the middle of Alma with roadway on both sides. Could this help minimize the need to seize homes, create additional safety by isolating the tracks and lower costs by allowing a lot of construction to occur while Caltrain is running? Without deep analysis, we can't even contemplate these options.

The funding of grade separations isn't just Palo Alto's problem because the Caltrain corridor provides a huge regional public benefit. Grade separations allow for more frequent Caltrain service (which directly correlates to fewer cars on U.S. Highway 101) and provide for better traffic circulation regionally.

In Santa Clara County, sales-tax revenue from Measure B will provide some money but was not intended to completely fund even basic grade separations. Additional funds from VTA, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the state High-Speed Rail Authority, the state of California, and the federal government will need to explored.

Other communities have formed dedicated joint-powers agencies to manage public-works projects of this scale. We may need such an organization. Carefully managed construction and regional coordination could significantly decrease costs. A best-case scenario would be planning to separate every grade crossing along the Peninsula and coordinating construction schedules to drive down the cost for each city. There is no doubt that this would be a big undertaking.

Finally, a business tax or rail assessment district, in addition to taxpayer money, could help fund grade separations. We are one of the few California cities without a business tax. The City Council started a business-tax discussion a year ago, but it was halted this spring by the new council. We need to quickly resume efforts and get serious about a 2018 ballot measure to help fund transportation infrastructure.

A business tax should not be controversial. Grade separations are good for business from San Francisco to Gilroy. The conditions in just a few years with more trains running will wreak havoc with commuting, shipping and general mobility, impacting nearly all businesses connected to the Peninsula. Silicon Valley business leadership can truly lead here by getting on board and funding infrastructure for the next 100 years. It's time for our business community to help pay its share to improve transportation. It's also time for Palo Alto to fully explore all possible solutions for grade separations and seriously work on funding solutions.

Related content:

Palo Alto approaches decision on rail redesign

Behind the Headlines: Redesigning rail

Guest Opinion: Designing grade separations - headed for a train wreck?

Palo Alto seeks resident input on rail design

Tom DuBois is a Palo Alto City Council member and can be reached at tomforcouncil@gmail.com. The views expressed are his own.

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Comments

29 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 29, 2017 at 3:35 pm

Thank you, Mr. DuBois, I agree wholeheartedly and support your efforts!

While I am not an expert on transportation engineering or infrastructure financing, for more than 20 years I have lived withing spitting distance of the Palo Alto Caltrain.

About half that time in Old Palo Alto, by Castilleja, two blocks from the train near the Churchill crossing, and about half that time in downtown Palo Alto, directly across the street from the train station.

I have crossed the tracks by car, bike, and foot -- at all times of day and night -- many hundreds if not thousands of times. Obviously, this has become more challenging each year. The noise, the dirt, etc. are foreground -- not background -- to my daily life.

Under-grounding the train is the only option that provides the city with the opportunity to improve quality of life on multiple dimensions.

It would not only handle the problem of the existing grade crossings, but offer the possibility of adding more crossings. The addition of green space and paths would make traversing our city by foot, bike, skateboard, scooter, and blade far more accessible.

There may be additional options for recreation, etc. While I do not support constructing homes or offices on any newly available space, other cities have been quite creative in re-purposing former rail paths.

Yes, it will cost more, but burying the beast might enhance revenue for the city in the long-term. For example, the value of homes along Alma might increase, generating more property tax, easing of the traffic hassle might encourage people go out and spend more locally, generating more sales tax.

And absolutely, businesses should pay their fair share via a business tax or other means. The primary driver of the city's traffic and parking woes has been office over-development and accompanying developer welfare which has exempt these special interests from mitigating the problems they have created.

So, yes, let's bore, baby, bore!


7 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2017 at 4:44 pm

"Naysayers will inflate costs, assume excessive constraints"

Those "excessive constraints" will come home to roost when the engineers start to design whatever Palo Alto decides on. When you get your head out of the clouds, the constraints become stark.

Councilman DuBois seems never to have heard the phrase "cost overruns", cf. Bay Bridge and Big Dig.

I question whether he is aware that PCJPB, not CPA, owns the right-of-way. Any plans to do anything on the surface of the ROW will require negotiation with the Joint Powers Board (Caltrain). It is doubtful they will simply give the land away.

I'm sure Mr. DuBois would find this article illuminating: Web Link

It will ultimately be up to Palo Altans to decide how much money should be spent on the project and how much property/sales/business tax they are willing to pay.


1 person likes this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2017 at 4:56 pm

"Another early analysis showed that if we instead lower the road under the tracks, up to 80 homes would have to be taken through eminent domain to maintain turn lanes onto Alma Street"

That's a half-truth, Mr. DuBois. See here:

"When the city commissioned a grade separation study from engineering firm Mott Macdonald, the council deliberately excluded from consideration any designs where rails or roads might rise above existing grade."

Web Link


24 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 29, 2017 at 5:04 pm

Anyone else think that pushing for the billion dollar diamond-plated option is possibly an attempt to stall the project until the price for the cheaper options becomes unrealistic? I think it is OK to explore these options for a short period and in parallel with more economical options, but we need to agree on a hard deadline for making a decision. Create a 1-year timeline to design both the $100 million option and the $1 billion option. After 1 year, if the $1 billion is not available, then drop that option and start construction on the $100 million option immediately. The city has been debating grade separations for 20 years and we've reached a point where doing nothing is the worst possible option. We need to move forward quickly.


5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 29, 2017 at 5:05 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Thank you for an interesting piece.

"Another early analysis showed that if we instead lower the road under the tracks, up to 80 homes would have to be taken through eminent domain to maintain turn lanes onto Alma Street, and that could be up to $250 million just in property acquisition costs for a total of $650 million-plus. Throw in a lawsuit or two, and two underpasses could easily exceed the cost of a trench."

If the above is correct, then it would seem like you're going to have many many lawsuits when Palo Alto properties are valued at $312,500. ($250,000,000 divided by 80 properties = $312,500 per property)

Please explain! Thanks.



11 people like this
Posted by Steve Dabrowski
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 29, 2017 at 5:27 pm

It would be well to recall the "Big Dig" in Boston years ago. That became a major financial as well as political disaster-I smell the the same recipe being cooked up here.


1 person likes this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 29, 2017 at 5:34 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

(apologies for my math mistake above)


2 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2017 at 5:46 pm

Here is an excerpt from Clem's blog for those who may be disinclined to click through. Web Link

"Split-grade solutions should be studied with due diligence. When the city commissioned a grade separation study from engineering firm Mott Macdonald, the council deliberately excluded from consideration any designs where rails or roads might rise above existing grade. From the outset, this eliminated the standard solution that every other peninsula city has adopted: San Bruno, Burlingame, San Mateo, Belmont, San Carlos, Menlo Park and Sunnyvale either already have or are planning split grade separations, where the rails are raised a bit and the streets are lowered a bit. Turning a blind eye to split grade solutions, however controversial they may be, casts doubt on the entire decision making process. Without due diligence in studying a full range of grade separation solutions, the politics of assembling the necessary funding will become unnecessarily complicated."


6 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 29, 2017 at 6:00 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Tom DuBois - I can't help but feel railroaded in this discussion when elevating the tracks isn't even raised. Yes, two puns for the price of one... It creates a false dichotomy when the only options presented are bulldoze 80 homes or suck it up and spend a billion dollars.

One serious request for you and your partners on the city council, read Bent Flyvbjerg's book: Megaprojects and Risk.

Web Link

This doesn't qualify as a megaproject ($1 billion) yet, but it is getting close. In his analysis, 90% of megaproject are over budget, over time, and underperform on benefits promised. Flyvbjerg quotes WIllie Brown on the Transbay Transit Center:

"We always knew the initial estimate was way under the real cost…. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there’s no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in.”

And note Flyvbjerg's observation, "Unfortunately, false cost-benefit estimates have a way of elevating big projects over more cost-efficient, less environmentally disruptive ones." I worry that's what's happening here.


18 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 29, 2017 at 6:03 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

By the time you add up all the costs and the construction impacts of a trench this will be very expensive.

Please at least think about a more comprehensive and integrated approach.

Why not see this as an opportunity rather than a problem?

One thought is the put the trains underground, use the surface rights above it for housing in the stretches between stations and use the surface above the stations for transit connections and parking. The surface area of the current right of way is very valuable land - particularly in Atherton - and could generate a lot of the needed capital.

Why not take this as an opportunity to design a multi-dimensional, multi-purpose system that uses the existing right-of-way that includes CalTrain, HSR, utility conduits for telephone and internet cables, surface housing with high density housing around each station. And add pedestrian path and a separate bicycle path on the surface along the entire right of way. And include 3 or 4 12" conduits for the technology of the future.

We should think of this right of way as an integrated multi-modal communications spine for the peninsula.

A piecemeal approach will be very expensive.

Do it once and do it right.


5 people like this
Posted by Been there
a resident of Woodside
on Sep 29, 2017 at 6:44 pm

"We always knew the initial estimate was way under the real cost…. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved.”

He might well have added "Customers' schedules are wildly optimistic."

Every experienced large-project contractor knows there are two options when making a bid:

1. Bid it so you can do it, or

2. Bid it so you can win it, then go for increments.

Guess which one underlies almost all big projects, public and private.


10 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2017 at 7:54 pm

"It would be well to recall the "Big Dig" in Boston years ago. That became a major financial as well as political disaster-I smell the the same recipe being cooked up here."

One need look no further than the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.


12 people like this
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 1, 2017 at 8:45 am

Admittedly a novice on this topic, are there any projections on when BART might complete its circle around the bay. I know that currently it's being extended to the CalTrain station in Downtown San Jose. It makes sense that if the extension continued north through the peninsula, might they use the current CalTrain rail corridor to complete the connection in Milbrae?

Has this possibility been considered? BART is quieter, more efficient regionally, and the rails could be elevated. Who knows, a fully regional BART system might encourage more people to use public transportation and get out of their cars. It could also ease the commute burden for people who work in Palo Alto but can't afford to live here. I truly believe that having two separate rail systems (BART & CalTrain) diminishes these advantages.


19 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2017 at 9:11 am

Tom,
Thank you for such an intelligent and thoughtful editorial. I am glad you are at the helm of this.

Can you please explain the difference, in practice and in opportunity, between a trench and a tunnel? It seems like a full-on tunnel is the most robust longterm solution, but I don't know the differences. I would like to know, since a tunnel is also on first blush the most expensive (though weighed against the property tax loss from 80 homes, perhaps a little less so),, but I wonder if the opportunities would allow unique funding channels. For example, the recovered land could not only provide for a pedestrian and bikeway, but it could also allow for a whole separated road across town, next to Alma. Could such a roadway be dedicated to autonomous vehicles (below a certain size) for a period of five years, say, in exchange for significant funding from companies who would benefit from the opportunity? Wouldn't it be cool to be able to walk up to Alma at any intersection, and take an autonomous vehicle downtown or anywhere else, get out, then go back whenever you want, paying and scheduling using a mobile device? If this capability stretched from Mtn Vw station to RWC, it would utterly transform transportation on the Peninsula. As a family, we would get rid of one of our cars, happily. Kids would be so much more independent.

Per the business tax suggestion. I think they have failed in the past because of a failure to separate the retail and businesses contributing to the community from those that are basically trying to take over Palo Alto as their personal business park and company town, taking over for their own selfish wants what the public built, and expecting the public to bear the costs and negative consequences. Retail, safety, and the natural environment have also suffered. We don't want to destroy retail altogether here through a tax. Why not just tax companies that grow too big here, to encourage them to find places they can grow like Facebook did, and if not, at least get them to pay the actual costs of their impacts, on an escalating scale? Particularly where the companies already violate our City codes? With Palo Alto not taxing these companies, no wonder they want to force their way in here and squeeze out the startups and residents.

Will you also please find a way to get a resource for citizens to understand the new comp plan and its consequences to residents, and the specific recourse residents have if, for example, they think the public involvement was thwarted? I woukd like to know choices, deadlines, etc. I read that the new Council set aside what the citizens committee decided on, and the new Council being so stacked with members who deliberately misled the public about their funding from developers until after the ekection, I want to understand the big picture and choices I may have as a citizen.

Thank you for your work on this.


4 people like this
Posted by another one
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 1, 2017 at 9:34 am

are all politicians the same?? run the mouth about how wonderful they are going to treat their constituents--only to get into office and do exactly the opposite. Mr. DuBois is more of the same. i say put the politicians underground and get honest real people into office--we all would be much better off.


5 people like this
Posted by bikes
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 1, 2017 at 9:38 am

as one responder loves to say-- let's bike to work. we could stop the train at the mountain view border--give everyone bikes so they can bike up to the Menlo Park station and catch another train at that station and continue the trip up to SF. That would solve all the issues. No more trains through PA, no more crossing guards, no trenches or tunnels, and everyone would get their exercise. Great idea--Bikes will fix everything.


4 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 1, 2017 at 10:29 am

Everything I've heard about BART is that the hardware is high-maintenance, trouble-prone, and in 2017 the underlying technology is outdated. It makes no sense to spend millions to do away with a functional train service for no tangible benefit or improvement.


4 people like this
Posted by Rogue Trader
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 1, 2017 at 1:34 pm

I would not have any qualms with a parcel tax to help pay for an underground tunnel. We already have taxes to help pay for the PAUSD and the library modernization, and those taxes passed pretty easily.

This project is just as important. A parcel tax charged over 20 years would raise a lot of money, and yield a lifetime of local benefit.


30 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Do it once. Do it right. Put it underground. Pay for it with a tax on real-estate developers.

Real-estate developers have become fabulously wealthy creating our traffic and parking problems, so they should pay for the solution. Real-estate developers will also be the biggest beneficiaries of Caltrain electrification. Even though <1% of the Peninsula's population is served by Caltrain, and only a few hundred Palo Altans ride Caltrain, developers will be able to use Caltrain electrification to justify further urbanization and as a promotional gimmick to sell car-phobic millennials micro-units next the the tracks.


6 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 1, 2017 at 7:16 pm

Raise the railroad and create a a fabricated tunnel over the tracks. Keeps the weather off the tracks and significantly cuts down on the noise from passing trains. Maintains privacy for nearby residents. You don't have to do it with a berm...use bridge technologies instead. This allows people to still see through space under the tracks, creates opportunities for green space and possible bike / ped pathways. No taking of land. Can be built with minimal disruption to current rail service.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 1, 2017 at 8:31 pm

"Another early analysis showed that if we instead lower the road under the tracks, up to 80 homes would have to be taken through eminent domain to maintain turn lanes onto Alma Street, ..."

Think outside of that Alma connection box. Consider what Sunnyvale did decades ago at its Mathilda Avenue overcrossing of the Central Expressway. In place of the desultory diamond ramp connector configuration, it ran right angle connectors that fit into the existing road grid.

Here, we would run the cross street under both Alma and the tracks within the existing cross street right of way, ramping it to the surface within a block or so on each side. Designate existing surface streets as Alma-Meadow or Alma-Charleston or Alma-Churchill connectors. No house takings.

Let's face it, tho. Any solution not based on a tunnel is gonna be ugly. How much is avoiding that visual blight worth to us?


3 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 1, 2017 at 8:36 pm

"I would not have any qualms with a parcel tax to help pay for an underground tunnel."

I would have major qualms. Flat per-parcel taxes are inherently unfair to small parcels. Tax by the property area.


1 person likes this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 1, 2017 at 8:52 pm

"Raise the railroad and create a a fabricated tunnel over the tracks."

How would such a topheavy structure fare in a quake?

Tunneling the cross streets under the tracks is very similar to the San Carlos solution, except they also raised the tracks a few feet. This solution has never been fully explored for Palo Alto because a past city council decreed that the roads and the tracks should not be elevated.


Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 2, 2017 at 11:37 am

Raising the tracks and lowering the road still requires the taking of many properties to maintain connectivity to Alma Street. No estimates of that alternative have included either financial or political costs of acquiring so much property. Trenching, esp. at Meadow and Charleston, becomes much more economic, especially if you consider the possibility of building over parts of the trench. The air rights could contribute much to the cost.


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Oct 2, 2017 at 12:02 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Trench and cover is a very disruptive process and would create huge problems for maintaining existing rail and street traffic during the construction process.

A bore tunnel is disruptive only at both ends and in the tunnel to surface connections at each station.

Boring is expensive but if you full cost trench and cover including the cost of disruption there is much less difference.


14 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2017 at 12:19 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

Kudos, a well balanced and a-political article! For once, I cannot point out the obvious elitism, naivete and hypocrisy of a blatantly biased Liberal Progressive propaganda piece posing as a guest opinion.

Now, for the comments on taxes....

"I would not have any qualms with a parcel tax to help pay for an underground tunnel."

Let's not burden the rapidly dwindling proportion of home owners with yet another parcel tax (YAPT) to subsidize the 11,000 new units that will likely be going into Bayshore or the various ultra dense micro-apartment-hacker-hostel-proposals around town so techies can commute into Palo Alto or up to San Francisco.

A more fair structure would be a general transportation user fee for every resident and employee. It is simple. If you live here (even the RVs along ECR) or come here to work then you pay.

Metaphorically, nobody rides for free.


2 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 2, 2017 at 12:31 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Marie - you can raise the tracks and lower the streets without taking homes. Worst case Alma would have to lose a lane.


2 people like this
Posted by Marlene Dietrich
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 2, 2017 at 1:00 pm

I think it is time for East Palo Alto to get his first Caltrain station that will benefit a lot of people and reducing the big nightmare traffic that affects people from all Bay Area who use Willow and University Avenue. I really hope the closest cities help EPA to build it and especially the big Tech Industry that have been bringing a lot of workers to live in Bay Area and increasing housing and obviously to much traffic.
Doesn’t matter how much people will come to live in Bay Area while the Cities don't loose control of housing, traffic and water supply don’t affecting the quality of life from everyone who have been living here first.


5 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 2, 2017 at 1:01 pm

"@Marie - you can raise the tracks and lower the streets without taking homes. Worst case Alma would have to lose a lane."

...plus added traffic pressure of Middlefield with the elimination of Alma as a viable cross-city conduit.

As if Middlefield isn't full of traffic already.


11 people like this
Posted by Marlene Dietrich
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 2, 2017 at 1:12 pm

Let the Tech Industry pay for it ! They are the one who disrupted, made a big mess and got big benefit! Then they should pay for it! They are more then billionaires so Bay Area can become something similar like Dubai :)

Tax the Tech !


5 people like this
Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 2, 2017 at 3:20 pm

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

Thanks, Tom and PA Weekly! Good discussion now in motion.


17 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 2, 2017 at 3:33 pm

At the recent City Workshop, the trench advocates salted each working table with their friends. They did not discuss anything. They had already made up their minds. The also loudly favored crossings going under the trench, (a nonsensical solution) rather than over. At my table thee was no "moderator" to let everyone have some input.
The approaches being loudly discussed are going to strap every teenager in Palo alto with huge financial burdens for many years. Most of the people making the decisions will not be around to pay off the debt.
Also, the approx 70 people at the workshop should not be making such a lasting decision for the 30,000 or so PA Residents.

This deserves a ballot measure (with all costs presented) with teenagers voting along with the "vocal 60 yr olds"


3 people like this
Posted by Ralph Eckland
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 2, 2017 at 4:45 pm

Leave the current tracks for freight trains.
Put BART above the current tracks.


4 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Oct 2, 2017 at 9:04 pm

It is amazing how many people show up who are naive or newbie to bring up BART as a possible solution.

We are trying to move into the 21st century not go back to the 1950’s.


3 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 2, 2017 at 9:10 pm

"Leave the current tracks for freight trains.
Put BART above the current tracks."

Why spend all that capital building a redundant rail service? What can BART do that Caltrain can't?

Now we're getting BART shills. Yeah, "community input" will solve this puzzle.


2 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 2, 2017 at 9:54 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

If the RING ROAD of BART was completed WITH OUR TAX DOLLARS 40 YEARS AGO, there wouldn't have been CALTRAIN or any need for this discussion!

The BEST SOLUTION ( one that has been built already ) is to invest in some plane tickets to see the way RTD LIGHT RAIL has solved these problems already, from electrified consists to DOING THE BART THING of making elevated trackage for the same reason these " rocket scientists " want: GRADE SEPARATION!

To LOWER the tracks; how about $500,000,000 PER MILE was what the numbers turned out to be with 6 month+ for implementation! If you go to the CDOT or RTD Light rail sites, these were the numbers given at the time.

It probably cost much less to RAISE the trackage to get the grade separation RTD Light Rail needed in crossing inhabited areas.

You want more, you have to pay more. So who of you Palo Alto Billionaires are going to finance this boondoggle? You've already got taxpayers financing CALTRAIN....so just expect $500,000,000 per crossing for grade separation, using the Big Ditch comparison. Fools and their money....


10 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2017 at 10:27 pm

Chris Said:

"We are trying to move into the 21st century not go back to the 1950’s"

The proposed Caltrain electrification is arguably even older technology than BART. At least BART was designed from the ground up to move people. Caltrain is piggybacking on a system optimized to haul freight.

Neither of these systems will be able to take us into the 21st century. Passenger rail hasn't been profitable for 50 years. No profits equals, no R&D. No R&D equals, technological stagnation.

The goal of Caltainn electrification isn't to move us into the 21st century. The goal of Caltrain electrification is to funnel federal, state, and local tax dollars through favored construction companies and labor unions and into campaign coffers, and to reward the real-estate industry for their generous campaign contributions.

Caltrain electrification is just the CalHSR boondoggle business model implemented on a smaller scale.


8 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 3, 2017 at 4:07 am

If by "RTD light rail" you're talking about Los Angeles Metro, a few years ago they built the Expo line. They had to cross Bundy Drive so they built an overpass for the trains to go over the roadway. They did not depress the roadway below it.

There were not years and years of overthinking and wheel spinning and "community input" meetings and crying about taking $2 million homes or a "Berlin wall" or "divides the city" or scare stories about sparks and ozone odors or pipe dreams about a billion-dollar bike path on land they don't own. They just built it. There was not one peep of community protest. Now it works and people are happy with it.

They built the entire Expo line while Palo Alto was still dithering about grade separation.


1 person likes this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Oct 3, 2017 at 10:19 am

Utter madness. There are far more useful things to spend 1-2 billion dollars on! Money isn't free, even in the rarified heights of Palo Alto.

The San Carlos solution is good enough for one tenth the price.


1 person likes this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 3, 2017 at 10:41 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@ODB - The funny thing about the expo line is the trains have to obey red lights at intersections and let cars through. If we just applied this to caltrain at a Charleston, Meadow, and Churchill, we'd solve the problem.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 3, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Just caught end of report on noon news today on KTVU Channel 2 on cool sounding Cyber Tran public transport, apparently HQ up in Richmond and which claims to have a chance of getting federal funds out of Trump. Please Google it and give feedback here....I looked briefly at their site, seems interesting, but I am not sure if there is a possible application here.


Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 3, 2017 at 3:53 pm

"@ODB - The funny thing about the expo line is the trains have to obey red lights at intersections and let cars through."

They solved that problem at Bundy Drive by building a bridge :)

"If we just applied this to caltrain at a Charleston, Meadow, and Churchill, we'd solve the problem."

You're not the first person to suggest this and no, it wouldn't solve the problem. At some point you would still have to lower the gates and stop automobile traffic to let the trains pass through the crossing. Add to that, these aren't streetcars like in San Francisco which are tiny compared to a hulking Caltrain or several EMU's chained together. It takes a lot of time, distance and energy to stop and start the current hulking trains. I believe that under FRA rules the trains have the right-of-way. I don't think Palo Alto can legislate this. Caltrain would have to agree to it and it would put a dent in their schedule.


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 3, 2017 at 4:04 pm

"... several EMU's chained together ..."

Common on long distance freight mainlines, but rare to non-existent on the Caltrain tracks. I've seen many yard engines pulling UP's freights solo; never a multi EMU.

"Caltrain would have to agree to it and it would put a dent in their schedule."

Caltrain's spiffy sprintly new electric trains can handle stops at grade crossings just fine. Now consider the schedule impacts of hitting something or someone on the tracks.


3 people like this
Posted by John Bildenkamp III
a resident of Atherton
on Oct 3, 2017 at 4:11 pm

Would it cost much less if we bought a used tunnel from somewhere else?


4 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 3, 2017 at 4:13 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@ODB - I was just looking at the Expo overpass and it goes over Bundy, continues elevated through a mixed commercial residential neighborhood, and over the next major street as well. So it is a pretty good comparison to Charleston/Meadow. Something like San Carlos is probably closer to the optimal solution for Palo Alto given grade issues.


7 people like this
Posted by Arthur Keller
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 4, 2017 at 6:48 am

Currently, roads cross the Caltrain tracks in eight locations in Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale. Grade separation is having the road go over or under the train tracks, by moving the train tracks up or down and/or the road up or down. The sales tax increase on the November 2016 ballot (Measure B) included $700 million towards the expense of building grade separations in Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale. The VTA Board controls how Measure B funds (the sales tax increase on the November 2016 ballot) are to be spent. The VTA Board will meet on Thursday, October 5 at 5:30pm to adopt flawed Caltrain Grade Separation funding guidelines.

Agenda Item 6.3 on the Consent Calendar is "ACTION ITEM -1) Adopt a Resolution, establishing the 2016 Measure B Program; and 2) adopt the 2016 Measure B Program Category Guidelines.” These guidelines are on pages 40-41 of Web Link as follows:

Caltrain Grade Separations

Proposed Guidelines

This program category will fund grade separations in the cities of Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Palo Alto. VTA, working in collaboration with the three cities and other partners, is proposing to develop an implementation plan for delivering the eight grade separation projects. Once the implementation plan is complete, funds will be distributed as candidate projects move forward in readiness.

The amount of funding in 2016 Measure B will likely not be enough to fully fund all eight projects listed in the Caltrain Grade Separation Program Category. To complete all eight projects, VTA would allocate 2016 Measure B funding to the most cost-effective grade separation alternatives possible. Additionally, VTA anticipates that outside funding sources will need to be secured to complete the program.

VTA is also recommending that the grade separation projects apply Complete Streets best practices in order to improve transit, bicycle and pedestrian elements at the intersections.

Recommended Funding for FY 2018-19

VTA is recommending $7 million for FY 2018-19 which will be used to fund the implementation plan, as well as any potential design and/or environmental work that cities may be able to advance.

What does this mean? It means that funds will be allocated first-come-first-served to the cheapest way to get grade separations. That may well mean that the our efforts to build better but more costly grade separations will get lower priority, maybe even no money at all, even if Palo Alto funds the difference.

We should request better language that is fairer to all cities and promotes the best designs, not the cheapest.

Instead of the highlighted sentence above, the following language should be used:

To complete all eight projects, VTA shall divide the 2016 Measure B funding equally in 2017 dollars among the eight projects listed in the Caltrain Grade Separation Program Category. Designs higher than baseline costs will require additional local and other funding. VTA will work with collectively with the cities to secure funds from outside sources to complete the program.

What can you do?

1. Write to the VTA Board at board.secretary@vta.org and copy the Palo Alto City Council at city.council@cityofpaloalto.org (and blind copy me if you would like). Ask them to remove item 6.3 from the Consent Calendar and change the language for Caltrain Grade Separations to divide the available funds equally among all the affected grade crossings.

2. Speak at the VTA Board meeting. The meeting starts at 5:30pm and is at the County Board of Supervisors Chambers in the County Government Center, 70 West Hedding Street, San Jose, CA 95110 (at the corner of North First Street). Fill out a comment card for item 6.3. You will have two minutes to speak. You may take light rail there from the Mountain View Station (at Castro Street). If you choose to drive there, you may park in the lot at North San Pedro behind the County Government Center after 5pm. The entrance on West Hedding St is open after 5pm (while the other entrances are closed after 5pm).


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 4, 2017 at 12:46 pm

"VTA shall divide the 2016 Measure B funding equally ... among the eight projects listed in the Caltrain Grade Separation Program Category."

Why?


1 person likes this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 4, 2017 at 1:49 pm

Pat Burt is a registered user.

VTA's and the city's objectives are to use the $700M in Measure B grade separation funds to provide the foundation to be leveraged to fully fund the current grade separations in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale. The intent is to improve the operation of the Caltrain system, make the system safer and to allow for more trains without degrading traffic and bike/pedestrian circulation in the communities.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Oct 4, 2017 at 1:53 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Propose to the voters that they create an Improvement District comprised of Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton and then let the voters decide which option they are willing to support in terms of a bond measure.


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